Work-Life Balance... Is There Such a Thing?
Work-Life balance... Is it an idealistic notion to think that we can spread time equally between our careers and our personal lives? According to the OECD Better Life Index, the U.S. ranks 25th out of 36 advanced nations for work-life balance! But how can this be true when the average work week has gone from 38 hours in 1964 to just under 34 hours in 2013? The United States is still a hard-working country. On average, we work 1,787 hours per year which is more than the OECD average. Still, the amount of leisure time compared to our predecessors has increased. Today, Americans have an average of 42 hours per week of "free time" compared to 35 hours in 1965.
Most of today's workers don't punch a time-card and leave for the day. They head home, maybe taking a conference call during the drive to maximize the time. Some of us check email in the evening or catch up on industry news. We plan our tasks for the next day, review presentations and prepare for upcoming meetings. And so, even though we might spend 34 hours in the office, we spend more of our free time "working" than ever before.
Technology brought hopes of working less. Higher productivity would lead to less office days since we would be able to get the same amount of work done in a shorter period of time. But that hasn't been the case for all of us. Since it's so easy to tap into work, it's harder to ignore it completely. Even during downtime, it's tough not to feel inclined to check email or take one last look at the slides for tomorrow mornings meeting.
Paid vacation also plays a role. American's take fewer vacations than any other country. In fact, the United States is the only country that does not require employers to provide even 1 day of paid leave to its employees. This means that 1 in 4 Americans don't get a single day of paid time off. And some people who do receive paid time off aren't using it because they're too busy or have a fear of losing their jobs.
In fact, the statistics show that more people worked during their time off this year than in 2012.
Taking a vacation, or even a "staycation" can make a huge difference in our work/life balance. And when we're not taking vacations, maybe we should be planning them! Rather than spending our evenings tethered to a laptop, it's important that we take advantage of downtime.
When our careers are over, we probably won't be thinking about that missed deadline or the time we were passed over for a big promotion. What we'll remember are those plans to book a Caribbean cruise that never actually happened. Or the intention of getting the entire family together over the holiday no matter how complicated the travel arrangements would be. Maybe we'll regret never running that marathon, or getting our pilots license or learning how to make fresh pasta from scratch.
Perhaps we should follow Denmark's lead. They're the #1 country for work/life balance devoting 69% of their day to personal care and leisure time!